Tuesday, December 28, 2010

National Just Read More Novels Month 2011

It's hard to believe it has been five years since the first ever National Just Read More Novels Month (or NaJuReMoNoMo for the abbrevophillic) and it has grown bigger every year. Celebrated every January, it is devoted to the appreciation of fiction. Just in case you are new to it or need a refresher, here is this year's version of the official rules:
  1. Must Be A Novel. Works of fiction only, please. Memoirs, non-fiction, how-to books, and Doonesbury collections, no matter how thick, don't count, no matter how obviously fictional.
  2. Memoirs Aren't Novels. No matter how made up the story, anything ostensibly true isn't a novel. This used to be known as The James Frey Rule, but is now called the Decision Point.
  3. Start and Finish in January. I guess if you got some cool books for Christmas, Hanukkah or some other gift-giving event and jumped the gun, you can't be blamed. But I only count books I start and finish within the 31 day window.
  4. Re-reading Doesn't Count. Try something new. Read something by your favorite author or try an entirely new author. This is a great chance to cut down on the height of the nightstand stack.
  5. Have Fun. Nobody is grading you or paying you or judging you. Read what you like and like what you read.
Last year we started the Facebook group, which anyone can join. It has several dozen members and it just keep growing.

This year NaJuReMoNoMo is expanding to Twitter. Anytime you finish a novel, just tweet about it with the hashtag #NaJuReMoNoMo.Someone will be curious enough to try to figure it out.

In the past, people have claimed to not have enough notice about the start, so I am posting this a few days early so you can clear the decks and get those novels ready to be read at the stroke of midnight on New Years. It only takes one novel to declare yourself a winner.

As always we have a fine selection of badges and logos which can be downloaded from Photobucket or just swiped from this page.

And have a great month of reading.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yes, Virginia


"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?




VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.


Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.


Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.


You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.


No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


These photos were taken of the window displays at the Macy's on 34th Street and Herald Square in New York City. The full set of photos can be found here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why I Hate The Facebook BBC 100 Books Meme

There is a meme (in the 'internet silly game' meaning of the word, not the Richard Dawkins 'fundamental idea of civilization' meaning) going around the internet and on Facebook in particular which goes something like this:
Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here…

Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES.

Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses! (Or not.) Feel free to add comments too.
It has even become a Facebook app where you can click off your list and then compare yourself to your FB friends. I have grown to despise this list on several levels. Every time it circles around, I hate it even more. Here are but a few of the reasons:

  1. The BBC had nothing to do with the list. The closest the BBC has come to doing a list like this is their Big Read from 2003 which has many, but not all of these books on their list. The Big Read was a write-in poll to determine Britain's best loved book. The Lord of the Rings came in first, followed by Pride and Prejudice. No quibble there. But this is not that list.

  2. The actual list is from a UK Guardian listicle published in 2007 titled "Books you can't live without: the top 100". I guess whoever started this as a meme thought the BBC had a greater Appeal To Authority.

  3. There is no explanation of how this list was compiled. If there were a companion article in the Guardian explaining how it was arrived at, it has been lost to the internet. With no methodology it's just a random list of books.

  4. Nobody EVER said most people have only read six. Not the Guardian, not the BBC, not anybody except whoever unleashed this meme on the world. This is a frustrating gimmick meant to raise the interest of the reader and make them feel good they are better than 'most people'. In fact, it is a particularly low bar. If you survived high school you are likely to have doubled that number.

  5. The list includes series as single works (Shakespeare, Narnia, Harry Potter, The Faraway Tree). If The Little Prince counts as one, why do you have to read the entire Bible?

  6. There are also individual books in these series listed separately, such as The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Hamlet, thus double counting them.

  7. The quality of the list is astoundingly uneven. There are some real stinkers that made the cut. Some of the dreck that made the list I have read (The DaVinci Code) but there is no way anybody is ever convincing me The Five People You Meet In Heaven should ever be read by anybody.

  8. It's an odd, odd list. A good chunk of it is traditional Western Canon full of Dead White Men (plus Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters). Another part is childhood favorites, that is if you were raised by a nanny in a English manor house. And another big chunk is contemporary middlebrow 'serious' literature like you find on the 3-for-2 table in any BigBoxOfBooks. There is just no theme or rhyme or reason to the hodgepodge. The list is both too broad and too specific.

  9. There are books I have never heard of on this list. I spend a lot of time in bookstores. One of my favorite games is to find the back-to-school or summer-reading-list table and see how many I have read. I usually do pretty well, but I have never run across Swallows and Amazons. Wikipedia tells me it is the first book in a British series that dates to 1930. News to me.

  10. The list is getting increasingly tattered. I've seen a couple of sub-variations of the list with different books substituted. The current version, even the one that has become a Facebook app, has a lot of misspellings which have crept in from going too many times through the virtual Xerox machine. A list with the authors' names misspelled is just embarrassing.

  11. There is no Kurt Vonnegut on the list. This is a serious omission. Given the very British roots of it, it's understandable that it is highly Anglo-centric, but any list of a hundred anything without Slaughterhouse Five on it has no credibility.

  12. Memes just annoy me. But that is a rant for another day. Of particular help to me in building up a steam of hate for this one was a very good entry on the PurpleCar blog entitled How Do Memes Start? A Case Study: 100 Books in Facebook.

And in case you think this is all sour grapes, I have read 27+/- (depending on how you count things and how good my memory is) of them, which is perfectly respectable. But at my rather languid reading pace nowadays, my time is precious and I'm not going to go 'birding' just to increase my score on a particularly vapid Facebook meme. I have enough unread books in my house to last me at least five years and maybe ten of these books on the list are somewhere in the to-read pile, but I'm probably not getting to them anytime soon. I read what I want to read because life is too short.

Far more interesting to me is this list which really is from the BBC of the books people claim to have read but really haven't. I've read three on that list. No, nine. Yes, it's nine.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Stupid Top 100 Book Memes: Harmless Fun or Pretentious Annoyance?

Updated 8:15 a.m.: Changed the title.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where is Yellojkt Now? - Internet Edition

Judging from the rather meager posting rate on this blog, one could assume that I have taken a long hiatus from blogging, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. As a recent study suggested, actual real blogging is on a mild decline but all sorts of quasi- and para-blogging sites are booming. So rather than focusing on the flagship of the Foma* blogging media empire, my increasingly deficit-disordered attention has been frittered away on all sorts of side endeavors. Here are but a few of the places where you can find my nuggets of wisdom:

FourSquare – One of the features of my blog used to be me taking photos of places I go on business and then asking readers to guess where I am. FourSquare, the stalker-friendly social network has made that pointless. Now I am constantly updating with all the bizarre, obscure, and/or mundane places I find myself on my travels. So if you really care, you would already know that I have eaten at Blue Hill in New York, crossed the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati and had ice cream at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Amy’s. My little mindtwist on the site is that since everything is done on the honor system, I like to check into places I really haven’t been to. For example, I am the mayor of Clark’s Gun Shop in aptly-named Remington, Virginia despite having only set foot in there once. Also, if you see me check into a strip bar like The Cheetah in Atlanta, I’m just messing with you. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Gawker/Wonkette/The Awl – I started reading Wonkette back in the Ana Marie Cox days right as the Washingtonienne story broke. Ana is long gone (although I still hang on her every tweet) and Wonkette was unceremoniously set on an ice floe by Gawker Media only to thrive and form its own unique community and ecosystem. Similarly, several Gawker alumni formed The Awl as the anti-Gawker to prove that Nick Denton is a good person to have as a former boss. They regularly post some of the most thought provoking and intriguing stories, plus lots of videos of bears. As for the mothership, despite their recent password fiasco (which did snap me out of my lazy ways), I am still a faithful reader of the revolving door stable of writers at Gawker. I recently did some brand consolidation, and I am now known as Pop Socket across all three websites. What that does for me other than build a stronger case against me at salary review time, I don’t know.

Twitter – Twitter is the crack cocaine of micro-blogging. Quick hits, a short rush, and an empty queasy feeling of regret mixed with a hunger for more. Increasingly this is where I publish my non sequitur bon mots and random links rather than constantly annoying the insular circle of folks on the Achenblog. It’s also the clearinghouse for all my other social network postings since they all make linking to Twitter just a little too easy.

Tumblr – The newest addition to the Foma Media Empire is my long dormant Tumblr account. Tumblr tries to bridge that Goldilocks range for when a Tweet is too short and a full blogpost is too long. As my energy level for my way-too-long posts (this one as an example) wanes, I may be putting more and more here. One feature I am moving off of Facebook is my Inexplicably Popular Photo item where I post a picture from my Flickr photostream which shows a sudden above average level of viewing for no apparent reason. The 'no apparent reason' eliminates all views of cheerleaders and Glee cast members on the grounds they are highly explicably popular.

Flickr – Speaking of Flickr, this is the culprit starving the most time away from my limited but seemingly far too available internet time. I had developed a serious backlog in posting photos from my most recent vacations. I have finally gotten all the way though the 2009 road trip in Big Sky country and am now focusing on organizing the ones from the Spring trip through the desert Southwest. I’ve got to get caught up because I just got back from Puerto Rico with several hundred pictures and I have trips to Kentucky Bourbon country and Ireland planned for this year. I suspect both of these places will be outstandingly picturesque.

Facebook – In all trend pieces about the death of blogging, Facebook is usually named as a prime suspect. My beef is that since Facebook is a closed system, anything posted there has a very limited readership. I would like to think that the Google-driven masses who stumble onto my blog are looking for something other than pictures of Miranda Cosgrove naked, but the stats don’t bear this out. Still, my ever decreasing chance at internet fame is contingent upon being discovered by someone somewhere. I’ve just read a few books on Facebook (reviewed here) and they keep making a big deal out of the fact that Facebook requires the use of real names. I hope the master algorithm never realizes that one Yellojkt Yellojkt is a pseudonym. My account under that name predates the one under my real name which I keep up as a ruse to fool my spouse and old high school friends (a demographic with a good bit of overlap). So if you haven’t ‘friended’ my online avatar (which frankly, is far more interesting than the man behind the mask), feel free to do so.

Dishonorable Mention:

– I’m a sucker for getting an account on every silly platform that comes out, mostly to prevent claim jumping on the highly desirable ‘yellojkt’ user name. I discovered Formspring through my just-graduated-from-college niece so this is clearly something cool with the kidz. The format is round-robin questions and answers. Other members ask you questions and your answer is posted on your page. So without a critical mass of people in your circle to ask you question, it’s mostly crickets chirping. Sara Benincasa has parlayed this into a schtick and an artform, but I just don’t see these catching on even with as much time on my hands as I seem to have.

BlatantCommentWhoring: What social media takes up your time?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Five Greatest Hits

Hopefully this is the first of many new list style posts I am going to be sprinkling into the blog. The Top Five motif is a blatant rip-off of the lists from High Fidelity as well as a nod to A Little Night Music which frequently features really great mini-lists.

Greatest hits albums are usually blatant rip-offs of long-time fans while also being a cheap and dirty way to sell records to casual fans who don't want to plunk down a lot of money to buy the full catalog of an artist just to get the popular songs. But some greatest hits collections buck the trend and become worthwhile albums in their own right. So here are:

The Top 5 Greatest Greatest Hits

5Tori Amos Tales of a Librarian. Tori is an eclectic artist and a lot of her deep album cuts are kind of inaccessible. The most fantastic part of this album is that the songs aren't arranged chronologically or alphabetically, but by Dewey Decimal number. Now assigning these numbers is a bit arbitrary but I love the idea that someone went to the trouble. It's a clever idea studiously implemented. And the picture on the cover is just so hot.

4Madonna Immaculate Conception. A good greatest hits package gives you something that any individual album can't deliver. In this case, a career spanning overview provides a perspective on the chameleon-like Material Girl which is best seen from a distance. The songs are all truly hits, including the songs added just for the album. In one disc you really get why she dominated music in the 80s.

3Jimmy Buffett Songs You Know By Heart. The official subtitle for this album is "Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s)" with the parentheses being a great winking acknowledgment that Buffett is the world's most successful one-hit wonder. While he has put out over a dozen studio albums and several more compilations since that one, it is still the primary disc to have for potential Parrotheads. Got to any Buffett show and you are likely to hear nearly every song on this album, that is if you are sober enough to remember them.

2Eagles Their Greatest Hits. Arguably you only need three Eagles albums. Greatest Hits, Hotel California, and The Long Run. All the rest is filler. Early Eagles albums are a little sleepy and indulgent. Their Greatest Hits puts together a group of songs that set the stage for one of the most significant albums of the 70s. Worldwide, it has sold 42 million copies and is the only album to give Michael Jackson's Thriller a run for its money, saleswise. Conversely, Greatest Hits 2, put out after just two additional studio releases, is one of the most cynically money-grubbing releases of all time.

1ABBA Gold. Abba was a singles band. At best. They only had one number 1 hit in the United States but they were a huge success everywhere else in the world. I recently listened to the 33-1/3 book series (review here) on this album and the author explains the reasoning behind using a greatest hits album as career retrospective. The claims, probably correctly, that this album by collecting all of Abba's international hits it reclaimed the Swedish power pop band's reputation and triggered the decade long Abba-tastic nostalgia trip. If there is any one greatest hit album everyone should own, it is this one.


Foreigner Records. The worst greatest hits albums are those that include live re-recordings of the original songs instead of the album cuts or singles versions. And no violation of this rule is more egregious than the live version of 'Hot Blooded' on Foreigners first (of several) greatest hits albums. Not only is it live, it is terrible. After listening through the other nine tracks, the final song is just fingernails-on-a-blackboard off-key. I mean my version is better. The inclusion mars what would otherwise be a perfectly respectable collection. I have no idea what they were thinking except to give their fans some sort of sorry "Fuck you."

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Feel free to quibble.